Surrendering areas to crime meanslimiting the rights of citizens

I’ve had some notes sitting on my desk from comments made by readers and radio-show listeners a short time back about transient dog attacks and takeovers of parks. I’d been waiting for just the right event to crystallize the problem so that I felt I could write about it. This week I saw the story that made it click.

The city of Detroit is now ticketing drivers who park their cars in high crime areas. Yes, that’s right, Detroit police have now effectively abandoned certain areas of the city to such a degree of criminal activity that they now are trying to punish citizens for frequenting areas police can no longer control. This appears to be a policy to further withdraw from certain areas of the city that have been rendered uncontrollable and dangerous to citizens and law enforcement alike.

The city, which is facing a flight from its high taxation, expensive and failing school system and disreputable government, recently announced that it would withdraw certain public services from these ungovernable portions of the city. This latest move seems another clause in its terms of surrender.

It’s no secret that many older and once-vibrant cities have been pounded flat by years of progressive administrations and policies, moving toward a sort of neo-feudalism. I don’t mean the Lerner-and-Loewe Camelot kind of feudalism, but the violent, nasty and dangerous Saxon-invasion kind of feudalism, where criminal bands run lawless and what passes for government crouches helplessly behind castle walls. The people of that scenario lose their freedom in proportion to the amount of activities and area they are no longer able to freely exercise it upon.

What this story clarified was what is really being lost by the apparent transient takeover of certain portions of our community. It seems the bend in the river colloquially referred to as “The Point” has become some sort of community of its own, complete with the reports of dog attacks on passersby bold enough to approach this self-created kingdom.

Within the city limits, near First Street and Grand Avenue, a piece of land that was once dominated by a xeriscape experiment has now become a proving ground for urban camping, sign-making and panhandling.

Much of this is a result of a city and police department policy. The response to a growing transient problem was to move three valuable officers into the now famous Homeless Outreach Team, whose goal a little over a year ago was to act “as advocates for the indigent population.” These officers were placed into service after the termination of the city’s Street Crimes Unit that was disbanded in 2010 because of “budget uncertainty and internal woes.”

According to police department statistics, in 2008, the Street Crimes Unit was responsible for 151 felony arrests, 201 misdemeanor arrests, 87 fugitive warrant arrests and the seizure of 2 pounds of methamphetamine, 5 pounds of marijuana and 157 grams of cocaine. A department spokesman recently said when the unit was in operation, there was a 23 percent drop in property crime.

There is also the less tangible effect of having that type of enforcement, as the arrests and contacts provide much-needed intelligence used to investigate and prosecute larger scale drug and theft operations.

This summer, during a joint city and county meeting, I asked Homeless Outreach Team members how many criminal cases they had been involved with that had been submitted for prosecution to the district attorney’s office.  As I recall, the answer was around eight.

But don’t worry, the city of Grand Junction has received a $1 million federal grant to reinstitute the Street Crimes Unit for three years. I leave it to the reader to do the calculation on how much the change of focus from street crime to transient advocacy costs each year.

This is more than just a crime-fighting problem. It is a realization that surrendering places and abandoning activities in the face of legal or illicit activity is a loss of liberty. Officials who refuse to allow police to police do them and the community a disservice. They ultimately steal from the citizens their right of safety and enjoyment, no matter where they may legally find themselves.

Rick Wagner offers more thoughts on politics at his blog, the War on Wrong.


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Right Wagner states: “I leave it to the reader to do the calculation on how much the change of focus from street crime to transient advocacy costs each year.”

Why wouldn’t a columnist do that calculation himself? Perhaps because he doesn’t like the answer? He quotes Street Crimes Unit arrests (not convictions or costs or benefits to the city, notice) and compares that in general terms to a Homeless Outreach Unit that has prevention as a primary goal.

He seems to think arresting and coercing people is the most effective way to gather “intelligence used to investigate and prosecute larger scale drug and theft operations.” But most homeless people are involved in petty crimes and assaults that typically involve their own community and commanded a disproportionate amount of police resources under the old head bashing/tent slashing regime.

If the HOT team did not reduce costs to the city and resulted in an increase in crime, that would be an important story.

If Wagner could produce actual data to support his bashing of poor people and police, shouldn’t he do it? The fact that he relies on this kind of innuendo and sloppy thinking makes his column a joke.

The preceding comment was inadvertently posted under the name of my sister due to an automatic log-in from a computer I used. The preview function did not show the name that would appear, and I did not notice the attribution until posting it.

The opinion expressed is mine alone.

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